25 Amazing Hidden Gems in North Carolina

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
Our travel recommendations are based on our personal experiences and research, written by locals and travel experts with deep familiarity with the destination. When you book a hotel or tour that we link to, we may earn a commission.

A quintessential southern state in the United States, North Carolina has a lot more to offer than its majestic mountains, intriguing hiking trails, charming piedmonts, and picturesque coastline.

The ninth most populous state in America, North Carolina shares its borders with South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and most prominently the Atlantic Ocean. The state is divided into a hundred counties and the capital, Raleigh, along with Durham, houses the largest park in the States.

Cape Hatteras, commonly known as the ‘Graveyard of the Atlantic’, has a history of over 1,000 lost ships since 1526.

With a fascinating history and rich heritage, North Carolina is home to some of the best-kept secrets in the world.

Let us explore some of the most mysterious spots in the state.

1. Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky, Raleigh

Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky, RaleighSource: joevare / Flickr
Cloud Chamber For The Trees And Sky

Distinctly similar to a hobbit house, the Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky, an outdoor exhibit by British artist Chris Drury, is located in North Carolina Museum of Art – the largest of its kind in the United States.

The unique architecture is a round-shaped chamber constructed of wood, stone, and turf that derives strange inspiration from ‘fairy-tale’ design combined with medieval technology.

A wooden door acts as the sole point of entry and exit to the chamber, which when closed, restricts any source of light into the room, except for a tiny hole on the roof that acts as camera obscura or a dark room. This primitive optimal trick allows you to walk among virtual treetops, clouds, and the blue sky, all created with nothing but a technology involving sunshine.

2. Abandoned Henry River Mill Village, Hildebran

Abandoned Henry River Mill VillageSource: sgoodwi3 / Flickr
Abandoned Henry River Mill Village

Once a major mill town, the Henry River Mill opened in 1905 in a village that once featured as ‘District 12’ in the famous movie, ‘The Hunger Games’. As industrial technology evolved, the once-thriving mill gradually started losing its charm and was shut down in 1973. After that, people started moving away and finally left the village completely abandoned in 1987.

Today, the ghost town of Henry River Mill is single-handed owned by Wade Shepherd, an 83-year-old man who lives nearby.

After the filming of ‘The Hunger Games’, the village saw a brief period of action as visitors started exploring the surroundings, however, ever since the town was first abandoned, several rumors of paranormal activities were reported.

Though nothing has been proven yet, people have often claimed that things such as rocks and sticks were thrown at them when they passed the largest building in the village which is known to be the first one to have been built here.

Some visitors have reported hearing noises of several men chatting and if you approached them, you could see three of the original workers at the mill talking to one another.

Brave enough to wait and spy? Beware as they do pause to stare back at you with a cold, eerie grin.

3. Land of Oz Theme Park, Beech Mountain

Land of Oz Theme Park, Beech MountainSource: bambithepig / Flickr
Land Of Oz Theme Park

Opened in 1970 in honor of L. Frank Baum’s original book, the Land of Oz Theme Park was initially established to keep attracting visitors to the adjoining Beech Mountain Ski Resort.

The interiors of the park house actors in costumes depicting characters from the book. Visitors could take a stroll down the Yellow Brick Road and experience the cyclone that brought Dorothy to Oz, meet Tin Woodsman, and even come face to face with the wizard himself.

However, the park lost its charm when it started diverting towards the film, and a fire that destroyed Judy Garland’s dress from the film sealed the fate of Land of Oz Theme Park.

The park shut down in 1980, but, after a partial restoration, it only opens once a year for the Autumn of Oz event that sees several thousand tourists. But, aside from the event, the park stands dilapidated and abandoned.

Take advance permission from the owners of the land if you intend to visit the park outside of the event and have the whole Land of Oz to yourself (a great idea by the way).

4. Castle Mont Rouge, Rougemont

Castle Mont Rouge, RougemontSource: CROutlaw / Flickr
Castle Mont Rouge

Built by local artist Robert Mihaly to serve as his part-time studio and home, Castle Mont Rouge is tucked away at the end of a long stretch of mountain road. Constructed out of marble and cinder blocks in a combination of European and Middle-East architectural style.

While the exteriors were almost complete, construction on the interiors was stopped midway after Mihaly’s wife passed away.

The abandoned castle, with rotting wood floors and an unstable structure, is now a popular turf among graffiti artists.

It is rumored that Mihaly still uses the Castle as his part-time studio.

A ‘no trespassing’ sign has been posted outside the property, but Castle Mont Rouge is still a great photo-op for lovers of architecture and lost stories.

5. Judaculla Rock, Sylva

Judaculla Rock, SylvaSource: ontheroadwithdec.blogspot.com
Judaculla Rock

An ancient boulder with apparently a mysterious past, the Judaculla Rock was a sacred site before the colonization of North America. The Cherokee Indians who worshipped it believed that the strange looking seven-fingered hand imprint was left by Judaculla, an ancient creature, who, while jumping from one mountain to another, accidentally landed on the rock.

Several urban legends about supernatural sounds around the rock have been reported but nothing substantial has been found so far.

An excavation around the area led archaeologists to believe that the engravings on the soapstone could be from around 2,000 BC!

6. Devil’s Tramping Ground, Bear Creek

Devil's Tramping Ground, Bear CreekSource: opus2008 / Flickr
Devil’s Tramping Ground, Bear Creek

Do you have what it takes to stand right in the middle of the Devil’s dancing ground and challenge him for a freestyle?

According to fables that date back to 1882, the Devil’s Tramping Ground, a barren patch in the centre of an otherwise lush path of dirt road, is known for a strange phenomenon – it is said that no matter what you throw in the middle of this patch, even the heaviest of the things, you would find it thrown back out when you visit the next morning!

People say that the Devil uses this place to dance at night, and some have even claimed to encounter a pair of glowing red eyes at night.

A few years ago, a journalist along with his two dogs, camped right on the Tramping Ground. Though he didn’t experience anything unusual and wasn’t mysteriously tossed out, there were sounds of footsteps encircling the camp at night.

7. Blue Ghost Fireflies, Hendersonville

Blue Ghost Fireflies, HendersonvilleSource: cfaia.org
Blue Ghost Fireflies

What can be unusual about a bunch of fireflies, right? Wrong.

The Blue Ghost Fireflies of Hendersonville are not your usual tiny, delightfully twinkling bugs. In fact, these fireflies, scientifically known as phausis reticulata, pride themselves in being different from the whole lot.

Appearing only for a month every summer, the Blue Ghost Fireflies, unlike their similar counterparts, emit a bluish-greenish color, and they don’t flash, they GLOW! Though it may not seem much of a difference, you need to truly experience the phenomena to know what makes it so dissimilar and ethereal. Also, their color makes them extremely difficult to be captured by a camera.

Of course, like any other surreal event, the Blue Ghost Fireflies also have a legend to them – apparently, they are the ghosts of Confederate soldiers!

Mid-May to Mid-June is the best time to spot this occurrence. Wait till after sunset and the magic will appear like clockwork.

8. Cryptozoology and Paranormal Museum, Littleton

Cryptozoology And Paranormal Museum, LittletonSource: facebook.com
Cryptozoology And Paranormal Museum, Littleton

Why do we always find the creepiest, most incomprehensible occurrences in countryside America? Well, we suppose you wouldn’t want them next to your front yard either.

Littleton, North Carolina is home to one of the spookiest museums in the United States – the Cryptozoology and Paranormal Museum, an exhibit dedicated to strange characters and events that are spotted around the town.

Local cryptologist Stephen Barcelo, the founder of the Museum and the first point of contact every time a citizen of the town experiences something unnatural, collects and showcases unusual artifacts and items of paranormal nature here.

Casts of Bigfoot prints, photographic testimonials of UFO sightings, and Mrs. Beasley, the haunted doll, are some of the inhabitants at this museum which is dedicated to the eeriness.

9. The Last Shell Oil Clamshell Station, Winston- Salem

The Last Shell Oil Clamshell Station, Winston- SalemSource: “Caveman Chuck” Coker / Flickr
The Last Shell Oil Clamshell Station

Heard of the multinational oil and gas company, Shell? Winston- Salem, in North Carolina is home to the final survivor of the skilfully crafted Shell Oil station which was built to represent the company’s logo, and attract customers as a part of its advertising strategy.

A tricky construction back then, the Clamshell Station remained operational as a gas station until the 1950s. It is the first of its kind in the United States to have been included in the National Register of Historic Places.

The ex-gas station is now memorabilia of the past – a clamshell station calendar hung on the wall, old black and white photos on the shelves, antique cans, a coffee mug, a coffee table book, and an antique Shell-labelled red container decorates the interiors.

10. The Bunker Hill Covered Bridge, Claremont

The Bunker Hill Covered Bridge, ClaremontSource: jimmywayne / Flickr
The Bunker Hill Covered Bridge, Claremont

Would you dare to enter a ‘covered’, dark bridge built in 1894 not knowing what’s on the other side?

Though covered, dark, and ancient, the Bunker Hill Bridge isn’t spooky at all (or maybe just a little). Presumably the last of its kind in the United States of America, the bridge was created in 1894 as a means to cross Lyla Creek.

One of the only lasting lattice truss suspensions across the state and the country, the Bunker Hill Bridge is quite an amusement for inquisitive engineering historians as well as modern-day enthusiasts.

Restored in 1994 by the Catawba County Historical Association, the Bridge was owned by a family until 1985 and continues to be a National Civil Engineering Landmark.

11. Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden, Wilmington

Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden, WilmingtonSource: Coastal Girl / shutterstock
Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden

Imagine – A person whose life is dedicated to the cultivation of endless ‘flesh-eating’ plants? A garden that only gives residence to plants with TEETH? And, above all, a heist of $20,000 worth of Venus flytraps?

The sole site of all the above-mentioned atrocities, Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden is Wilmington’s dedication to its ‘flytrap man’, Stanley Rehder, the horticulturist behind this unusual cultivation.

Located behind Alderman Elementary School, the insectivorous plant garden is home to several scavenging plant species such as sundews, Venus flytraps, and pitcher plants.

Visit anytime during the day, on Saturdays if you are interested in free hikes, but don’t forget to put on your boots – you wouldn’t want to miss a toe, would you?

12. Shangri-La Stone Village, Prospect Hill

Shangri-La Stone Village, Prospect HillSource: bobistraveling / Flickr
Shangri-La Stone Village

You possibly couldn’t fit into these miniature homes, but it’s worth trying!

Shangri-La Stone Village, the brainchild of Henry L. Warren, who dedicated the last few years of his constructing the gnome-sized city out of rocks from his own land, is an interesting architectural wonder that consists of 27 elaborate buildings.

From 1968 to 1977, Warren designed the city to have all the contemporary amenities such as a hotel, a theatre, a gymnasium, and even a water tower. The solid stone used in the construction has prevented the village from weathering.

Paradoxically, the creator of this fantasy world passed away while he was completing the city’s hospital.

13. The House of Mugs, Collettsville

The House Of Mugs, CollettsvilleSource: jmorton01.wordpress.com
The House Of Mugs

Also known as the Collettsville Cup House, the House of Mugs is a product of true love and dedication, put together one nail and cup at a time.

Owned by Avery and Doris Sisk, the cup-covered home lays at the extreme end of an unpaved country road in the town. An accidental creation, the collage of coffee mugs began when the couple brought home a set of 15 random mugs and hung them around as a decoration.

After several years and 20,000 mugs later, the couple has created a masterpiece, a legacy that is absolutely worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood. The Sisks are known as highly friendly and welcoming people who love inviting visitors into their cozy world of coffee mugs.

You are welcome to hang your mug if you can find an empty nail!

14. Helen’s Bridge, Asheville

Helen's Bridge, AshevilleSource: Gingo Scott / shutterstock
Helen’s Bridge, Asheville

Mentioned in Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, Helen’s Bridge is an arched conduit which was erected in 1909 as an access to Zealandia Mansion.

Legends have it that the mansion was once home to Helen, a woman who lived here with her daughter. A tragic fire claimed the daughter’s life and when Helen couldn’t bear the misfortune, she committed suicide by hanging herself from the bridge. Till date, the bridge is known to be haunted by her spirit.

Some claim that Helen’s distressed soul appears whenever someone calls upon her name but a few visitors, who tried to do so, complained that they could not start their car when they tried to depart.

15. The Road to Nowhere, Bryson City

Source: Patrick Henson / Flickr
The Road To Nowhere, Bryson City

Located in the Great Smoky Mountains in Bryson City, NC, lays the Fontana Dam – the largest of its kind in the eastern United States.

In 1941, the Dam was built by Tennessee Valley Authority on land that was donated by ALCOA who saw it as an immense opportunity to generate hydroelectricity. Due to the construction, the communities who lived around the dam were displaced, and instead, Fontana Lake flowed.

The deal also comprised a road from the city to Deals Gap to make it convenient for the displaced people to move to and from the city and to visit their ancestral land.

By 1970s, only a seven-mile stretch of the road was constructed with an abrupt ending inside a small tunnel within the park. As a relief, Swain County was supposed to receive a $58 million consolation of which only $12 million has been paid till date.

The new sign to the road says ‘Welcome to The Road to Nowhere – A broken promise! 1943 -? →’

16. Cameron Barnstormer Murals, Cameron

Cameron Barnstormer MuralsSource: Gerry Dincher / Flickr
Cameron Barnstormer Murals

Unlike the usual Mail Pouch Tobacco murals, Cameron Barnstormer Murals in Cameron, North Carolina, a town that is entirely built upon tobacco farming given its barns an entirely uncommon look.

Thanks to David Ellis and his group of artists from New York and Tokyo, dearly known as ‘The Barnstormers’ to the locals of the town, the barns at Cameron depict murals on aging tobacco as an homage to his childhood town.

The craftsmanship of Ellis and his team weren’t limited to the barns though. Tractor trailers and farming equipment have also been covered in the group’s signature Graffiti style art along with an eclectic hint of modern art.

The project that began in 1999 still adorns the town and stands as a pride to the residents of Cameron, who flaunt their possession to anybody and everybody who likes to pay a visit to this interesting depiction of art.

17. The Museum of the Alphabet, Waxhaw

The Museum Of The Alphabet, WaxhawSource: facebook.com
The Museum Of The Alphabet

Love languages? How about spending an entire day (or four) amidst endless galleries that are dedicated to some of the most intriguing languages in the world – some you may not even know existed?

The Museum of the Alphabet in Waxhaw, NC, was founded in 1991 with a purpose to bring together a platform to exhibit and research a culmination of minority languages from around the globe. Established by William Cameron Townsend in 1991, the operation of the museum is overseen by the Jungle Aviation and Radio Services.

With over 12 exhibits, each devoted to a specific language or a language category such as Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and the African Languages. Visitors can also learn about several minority languages as well as find out how their names look in various real as well as imaginary language.

So, want to know what your name looks like in Klingon?

18. Kindred Spirit Mailbox, Bird Island

Kindred Spirit Mailbox, Bird IslandSource: Terrie L. Zeller / shutterstock
Kindred Spirit Mailbox, Bird Island

For over 30 years, a negligible mailbox, ‘Kindred Spirit’, stand on the shore of Bird Island. Though nothing is known of the original Kindred Spirit who owned the mailbox, it is believed that it was erected by him because of a mirage he saw which looked like the mailbox.

The Mailbox holds a communal notebook to account the messages and signatures of visitors who have been here. Not only that, the notes and messages left on the notebook saved Bird Island from being urbanized as a commercial resort.

The savior of Bird Island and the secrets of hundreds of visitors who have written their heartfelt thoughts on the notebook holds a dear place among the nearby residents. Many of the messages and thoughts expressed in the notebook now appear on the ‘Kindred Spirit’ website.

Have something to say but no one to listen to you? How about the ‘Kindred Spirit’!

19. Old Carbonton Dam, Sanford

Old Carbonton Dam, SanfordSource: Donald Lee Pardue / Flickr
Old Carbonton Dam

Built originally in 1921, the Carbonton Dam stood tall by the Deep River until 2004, when, due to reported contamination flowing out of the dam which damaged the surrounding habitats resulted in the shutdown. Although the dam itself was demolished by 2006, the tall, ghostly powerhouse still stands like a souvenir of the dam’s glorious past.

The tower, though open to the public, is rusty and crumbling here and there, but, the overall structure remains solid.

Once inside the tower, your only companion is the graffiti art and the wonderful views. There are a couple of nests by the fuse box on the top floor but you may have to make an effort to spot them.

Nonetheless, the haunting charm of the tower and the history makes your visit worthwhile.

20. Myers House, Hillsborough

Myers House, HillsboroughSource: johnkennethmuir.wordpress.com
Myers House, Hillsborough

What if you could have an invite-only visit to the infamous Michael Myers House from the horror classic on 1978, Halloween?

A replica of the original Myers House in California which was built in 1888 as the set for the movie, Kenny Caperton’s version established him as the biggest fan of the movie. Though not exactly as the original set, Caperton built his masterpiece as similar as he could to the set without access to the blueprints.

With the interiors upgraded to slightly liveable conditions (as the artist lives there with his wife), Caperton designed the corridors as creepy and claustrophobic as in the movie. An entire bookshelf has been devoted to collectibles from the movie, including the masks from the third series of the movie.

To get the best experience, visit in October but don’t come unannounced.

21. The Grave of Chang and Eng Bunker, Mount Airy

The Grave of Chang and Eng Bunker, Mount AirySource: gravescout / Flickr
The Grave Of Chang And Eng Bunker

The final resting place of Chang and Eng Bunker, the world’s most famous Siamese twins who were born in Thailand in 1811, the site in North Carolina Grave is an interesting site to spend the day.

During their world travels, the twins happened to stumble upon North Carolina and likes the state to an extent of settling here for good. They bought and lived on a small plantation in Traphill and worked as farmers. A while later, the brothers married Adelaide and Sarah Anne Yates, and fathered 21 children!

When Chang, who suffered from heavy drinking and deteriorated health, died in his sleep in 1874, his brother couldn’t bear the heartbreak and passed away three hours later.

Visit during the annual celebration of the twins’ birthday, when hundreds of their descendants come together to pay their respect.

22. Homeless Jesus, Davidson

Homeless Jesus, DavidsonSource: kasiahalka (Kasia Halka) / Flickr
Homeless Jesus, Davidson

Crafted by Timothy P. Schmalz, the life-like statue of Homeless Jesus sleeping on a public chair completely wrapped in a blanket is the first of its kind to have appeared in the country.

Spotted outside St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Davidson, the figurine has ever since confused its spectators – while some believe it to be a depiction of Christ’s humble lifestyle, others think of it as a disrespect to Jesus along with an image of the town that suggested the existence of poor people.

There is room for visitors to sit by the statue on the same bench and study the creation up, close, and personal.

23. Unto These Hills Cherokee Theatre, Cherokee

Unto These Hills Cherokee Theatre, CherokeeSource: Lee Bennett / Flickr
Unto These Hills Cherokee Theatre

The little town of Cherokee has been inhabited by the natives of Cherokee tribe since the 1950s. A stroll around the town reveals signposts written in the tribal language. Among the various kitschy attractions lays the Mountainside theatre, where, every year, Unto These Hills is performed from June until August.

The theatrical performance narrates the dreadful story of over 16,000 eastern Native Americans who were forced to relocate to the west of Mississippi River.

Aside from the play, other musical and dance performances are also hosted at the theatre.

It is also worthwhile to check the nearby Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Oconaluftee Indian Village.

24. Paraclete XP Skyventure, Raeford

Paraclete XP Skyventure, RaefordSource: facebook.com
Paraclete XP Skyventure, Raeford

Want to feel like Peter Pan for a day?

The Paraclete XP Skyventure, located alongside Fort Bragg in Raeford, NC, is the largest and the most powerful Vertical Whirlwind in the world!

Used as a training ground by Military and Civilian skydivers, the Windtunnel is located inside a 100-ft. high building which is late out in the shape of number 8.

Though much of the business at the sports center involves free-fall training to soldiers at the ‘Special Warfare School’, tourists can try a session with a flying instructor (for a hefty fee).

25. Musical Parking Garage, Charlotte

Musical Parking Garage, CharlotteSource: Side Hustle Stories - Maxine / Flickr
Musical Parking Garage

What is your biggest concern at a parking garage – finding an empty slot or remembering where you parked? Not at this unusual 7th Street Parking Garage!

Designed by architect and sound artist Christopher Janney, Musical Parking Garage, or “Touch My Building” was designed to motivate pedestrians to disconnect from their usual life and connect with their surroundings.

The massive creation shells most of the nine-story garage building and is covered in transparent blue and purple rectangles, connected to several 30-foot-tall red fins. The fins light up and play music when they’re touched.

There is also a rumored ‘ghost’, who triggers random musical performances. The most rewarding way to communicate with Janney is to solve a puzzle and experience quite a show.


25 Amazing Hidden Gems in North Carolina:

  • Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky, Raleigh
  • Abandoned Henry River Mill Village, Hildebran
  • Land of Oz Theme Park, Beech Mountain
  • Castle Mont Rouge, Rougemont
  • Judaculla Rock, Sylva
  • Devil's Tramping Ground, Bear Creek
  • Blue Ghost Fireflies, Hendersonville
  • Cryptozoology and Paranormal Museum, Littleton
  • The Last Shell Oil Clamshell Station, Winston- Salem
  • The Bunker Hill Covered Bridge, Claremont
  • Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden, Wilmington
  • Shangri-La Stone Village, Prospect Hill
  • The House of Mugs, Collettsville
  • Helen's Bridge, Asheville
  • The Road to Nowhere, Bryson City
  • Cameron Barnstormer Murals, Cameron
  • The Museum of the Alphabet, Waxhaw
  • Kindred Spirit Mailbox, Bird Island
  • Old Carbonton Dam, Sanford
  • Myers House, Hillsborough
  • The Grave of Chang and Eng Bunker, Mount Airy
  • Homeless Jesus, Davidson
  • Unto These Hills Cherokee Theatre, Cherokee
  • Paraclete XP Skyventure, Raeford
  • Musical Parking Garage, Charlotte